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Doctor Strange is a movie I’ve been antic­i­pat­ing ever since it was announced, and I know I’m not alone. You’ll be pleased to learn Marvel Studios con­tin­ues acing their high-wire act of cre­at­ing non-stinkers and, depend­ing on your taste, has pro­duced one of their finest, most visu­al­ly unique films to date.

What sets Doctor Strange apart from the oth­er Marvel movies most is its aes­thet­ic, which is very much its own. From the trip­py “open­ing of the third eye” sequences in the begin­ning of the sec­ond act to the fold­ing of space into frac­tals we saw so much of in the trail­ers, many com­pared this to the visu­al style of Inception with its fold­ing build­ings and impos­si­ble archi­tec­ture; there are sim­i­lar­i­ties, but the movie isn’t a one-trick pony, and uses the effect only in cer­tain sequences. What sur­prised me is how they made the styles of mag­ic make sense in the uni­verse. The frac­tal effect isn’t sim­ply “rule of cool” — it has a ground­ing in the plot, if you pay close atten­tion.

There has been some crit­i­cism of the film not being as sur­re­al as it could be, with the painful sound­bite of it not being “Strange enough.” If you’re going into Doctor Strange expect­ing an art-house expe­ri­ence, you’ll be dis­ap­point­ed. This is a stu­dio block­buster with some sur­re­al edges, not Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind dressed up as a super­hero movie. And there’s noth­ing wrong with that.

The film looks stun­ning. As a block­buster, it’s a real visu­al feast. I didn’t see the film in 3D, but I can imag­ine some of the sequences bring­ing on eye-strain in those who are sus­cep­ti­ble, so con­sid­er this a soft warn­ing. I nev­er felt I was miss­ing any­thing in 2D, despite the film’s 3D aspects being hyped up. It’s just not worth the poten­tial headache. Other than that, I would def­i­nite­ly say Doctor Strange is a good cin­e­ma expe­ri­ence.

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The film has a some­what non-conventional cli­max — which I shall not spoil here — that was clever and made use of the inge­nu­ity we’d seen the char­ac­ter dis­play up until that point. What I will also give Marvel cred­it for is that the trail­ers don’t ruin the movie; a lot of the detail we see is quite ear­ly in the movie, and visu­als tak­en from lat­er por­tions are out of con­text enough it doesn’t spoil them. There are still a few tricks the film saves for your full view­ing, which is depress­ing­ly rare in 2016 trail­ers.

The only major crit­i­cism I can lev­el is the brisk pace it goes by at. There is a lot to cram in and that leads to some slight­ly abridged-feeling sec­tions. For exam­ple, his train­ing in the mys­ti­cal arts is one such point that obvi­ous­ly tries to avoid the typ­i­cal train­ing mon­tage, but jumps from him being com­plete­ly inept to being quite gift­ed in a very brief sec­tion of on-screen time.

Benedict Cumberbatch acquits him­self admirably as Steven Strange, the arro­gant rock-star sur­geon turned mys­tic guardian. His jour­ney feels quite nat­ur­al despite the fast pace, but his per­for­mance isn’t giv­en the room to breathe that would make it a clas­sic per­for­mance. His on-screen charis­ma and grav­i­tas are as present as ever, though, and it nev­er sac­ri­fices enjoy­a­bil­i­ty for strain­ing to seem ‘mean­ing­ful’ and’ grown up’ like so much Oscar bait.

The sup­port­ing cast, too, deliv­ers strong per­for­mances. Mads Mikkelsen is a suit­ably men­ac­ing and some­what three-dimensional vil­lain along with the men­ac­ing back­ground pres­ence of Dormammu. Tilda Swinton feels like an appro­pri­ate­ly wise and monk­ish “Ancient One.” Chiwetel Ejiofor’s sub­tle and con­flict­ed por­tray­al of Mordo will be a nice touch to those famil­iar with where the char­ac­ter is going from the comics. A real high­light is Benedict Wong, fit­ting­ly play­ing the librar­i­an Wong, and deliv­er­ing a great straight-man per­for­mance for Cumberbatch to bounce off.

Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE L to R: The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) Photo Credit: Film Frame ©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Again, the only crit­i­cism here is that I wish we had more time with all of these char­ac­ters to bet­ter flesh them out. Watching the Marvel series on Netflix brings home the push and pull between cin­e­mat­ic spectacle/polish and box-set expan­sive­ness.

Doctor Strange is a good movie, maybe even a great one. It stands on its own in the Marvel uni­verse whilst adding a new dimen­sion of mys­tic and mag­ic. It feels almost passé to say a Marvel film is “good” at this point; we’ve got so used to them being at a high­er min­i­mum qual­i­ty thresh­old than almost any stu­dio that a decent super­hero movie from an unproven IP seems unre­mark­able.

But it is remark­able. Marvel puts this sto­ry on-screen with a great amount of con­fi­dence. It nev­er shies away from the mag­i­cal aspects, tries to add lay­ers of sci-fi or expla­na­tion. This is balls-out mag­ic; peo­ple are sling­ing spells left and right, and a less­er stu­dio would wor­ry about alien­at­ing peo­ple and maybe pull back from it.

At this point in the cycle, it would be easy just to stick to a for­mu­la. Doctor Strange feels like a com­ic book movie through and through with­out feel­ing too sim­i­lar to pre­vi­ous efforts. The film inte­grates into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with­out feel­ing homogenised by it and with­out alien­at­ing exist­ing audi­ences. Scott Derrickson does a great job in the direct­ing seat serv­ing a vari­ety of audi­ences. Simultaneously mak­ing a film that fits into the Marvel Universe, whilst also mak­ing it dis­tinct enough for movie enthu­si­asts, but famil­iar enough that it doesn’t estrange the casu­al Marvel movie­go­er.

Eventually Marvel’s gold­en streak will like­ly end, and when that hap­pens, we’ll look back on movies like Doctor Strange as some­thing spe­cial. Despite not tak­ing big risks, it nails the fun­da­men­tals of the genre and deliv­ers a thor­ough­ly enter­tain­ing end prod­uct. It won’t change your life, but I guar­an­tee you won’t feel short-changed. 

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.
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